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A ferry ride away from the North Fork, there is an escape within an escape.
Mashomack Preserve, located on Shelter Island, is 2,100 natural acres edged by 10 miles of coastline. There are species rarely seen elsewhere, a diverse population of grass and trees and a peek into what life was like on Shelter Island in centuries past.
Jeremy Samuelson, the preserve’s director, lives there year-round. Northforker caught up with him to learn what to spot, bring and not overlook while visiting Mashomack Preserve.
Northforker: What makes Mashomack special, especially in the spring and summer?
Jeremy Samuelson: [There’s] the opportunity to embark on either terrestrial or marine adventures that I like to think of as being almost like one of the choose-your-own-adventure books. You can think deeply about nothing at all, you can contemplate life and let some of the stress of your everyday life melt away. You can be engaged by and explore the natural wonder of the world. It is that increasingly difficult place to find that is apart from our regular lives and gives us a moment to disconnect and find our place in the broader natural world.
NF: What would you recommend people do if they want to take a leisurely walk through the preserve?
JS: If folks go to the visitor’s center, there are people there who have maps and can answer all of their questions. We have everything from a half-mile walk to an 11-mile loop trail, so whatever people’s difficulties are, we can accommodate them.
NF: What should people bring and wear if they are going to visit?
JS: A hat, sunblock tick repellent, a bottle of water and a snack.
NF: What types of wildlife do you have at the preserve?
JS: We have had eagles that have returned to the preserve in 2014, and we’ve had a successful breeding pair each year since then and have produced at least two young each of those years. We think that hopefully on a regional basis, we’re having a positive impact on those species. Similarly, the river otter is a species that was extirpated from the East End. It wasn’t known to be found here even though this is part of its native range for decades. Over the last roughly 10-plus years, we’ve seen the species return to the preserve. Every time we get back one of these species, it tells us that we are on the right track for managing these resources across the East End.
NF: What other wildlife can they expect to see?
JS: Eastern red fox, osprey, salamanders, hog-nosed snakes, box turtles, deer, possum, raccoon— so many cool or iconic species that it’s really hard to move through this space without being struck by the interconnectedness of these natural systems.
NF: How about plant life and trees?
JS: We have 1,400 acres of predominantly oak-hickory forest. We also have a couple of really healthy stands of American Beech, which are my favorite tree out here. I just think they are stunning and awe-inspiring. We have something like 100 grasslands or meadows that we maintain on the property that host a series of protected or rare grass species, many of them grasses that we were worried may have been no longer found on Long Island.
NF: What are some things that are really easy to miss that people should be on the lookout for?
JS: There’s a mistake that many of us make, myself included, which is that it is possible to come to a place like Mashomack and think that it is somehow pristine or untouched by human hands. When you become more familiar with the landscape, you find that all four corners of this property have been changed over time by the uses that people have carried out here over millennia, whether it’s a stone wall hidden in the briars or the 1890s manor house that is restored and used for offices and public events. There are so many layers of stories of war, bootlegging, peace and marriage and divorce, loss and love. We try to share all of that history because we believe there’s value in nature for nature’s sake, but there is also value in making sure we share the human sources. In doing that, we try to find a way to connect better with ourselves and each other. We can understand our history a little bit more, and that change is really a constant not only in our lives but our natural world around us. It gives us a way to think about how it’s our responsibility to be stewards of the property because it won’t be the same in 20 years or 50 years.
NF: What can we do to leave this place better than we found it?
JS: No single-use packaging. Buy the dozen cookies, but get the box that doesn’t have each one individually wrapped. All the little choices add up, and if you just kind of move through your day, ‘Is there a better choice I can make here?’ Eventually, if enough of us lean in that direction, we’ll be on a better course.